Skip to main content

That was weird: The Five Strangest UFA signings so far

The summer UFA session is always a crazy time, with big-name players switching teams and multi-million-dollar contracts aplenty. But this year it was even weirder than usual. Way weirder.

It got weird.

Unrestricted free agency is always a wild time, with rumors running rampant and star players switching teams and millions upon millions of dollars being thrown around. But this summer’s UFA madness was crazier than usual. Here are the five weirdest signings to date:

1. Robin Lehner to Chicago Blackhawks / Semyon Varlamov to New York Islanders (tie)
Wait, we’re starting with a tie? That’s weird right there. While Lehner-to-the-Hawks and Varlamov-to-the-Isles are downright strange on their own, they’re also intertwined with each other. The Islanders don’t sign Varlamov if they’re able to re-sign Lehner. And what exactly happened there, anyway? In the days leading up to free agency, it seemed an almost foregone conclusion that Lehner would remain with the Islanders, given his breakout season on the ice and personal epiphanies off it. Then the calendar flips to July 1 and he immediately bolts for a one-year deal? And then the Isles immediately sign Varlamov, who was relegated to backup duty in Colorado, to a princely four-year pact worth $20 million? This one’s weird from every angle.
Why it’s not weird: The Blackhawks get a motivated Lehner who’s out to prove, once and for all, that he’s worth a rich, long-term deal. The Islanders get Varlamov, a proven veteran, and hope for a resurgence under defense-first coach Barry Trotz and renowned goalie coach Mitch Korn.

2. Joe Pavelski to Dallas Stars / Corey Perry to Dallas Stars (tie)
Another tie? Yes, and it’s weird again, but also unavoidable. Pavelski, the longtime Sharks star and team captain, leaves for Dallas. Perry, the longtime Ducks star and goal-scoring top-liner, leaves for Dallas. Pavelski and Perry, longtime rivals on dueling California teams, are united as Stars teammates. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Why it’s not weird: The Stars are going for it, so they brought in a couple of veterans who will be gunning to show they’ve still got something left in the tank, not to mention the leadership upgrade.

3. Mike Smith to Edmonton Oilers
Well, at least this one’s not a tie, though it was tempting to include former Oilers goalie Cam Talbot getting signed by the Flames. Any time a Battle of Alberta participant switches sides, it’s noteworthy. And this one especially is an eyebrow-raiser because Smith is 37 and his play has deteriorated since an injury midway through the 2017-18 season. He lost the No. 1 job in Calgary last season, although to be fair he got the nod in the playoffs and wasn’t to blame for the Flames’ first-round exit. But is he the best the Oilers could do as insurance for Mikko Koskinen?
Why it’s not weird: When he’s on his game, Smith is as good as anybody. Plus, he’s a true pro who has seen a lot of ups and downs over his career, which should help him shepherd the Oilers as the franchise attempts a culture change.

4. Jason Spezza to Toronto Maple Leafs
There’s a lot to chew on here. Hometown boy returns to Toronto to cap his career, Eric Lindros-style. A (one-time) franchise center joins the Maple Leafs, John Tavares-style. A longtime Senator crosses over in the Battle of Ontario, like pretty much every other Sens/Leafs player who switched jerseys this summer (partial list: Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Tyler Ennis, Ron Hainsey to Ottawa; Spezza, Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur to Toronto). And let’s not forget it’s Jason Spezza we’re talking about here, a former junior prodigy who carried the ‘Next One’ torch for a little while (until it became evident that he was good, very good in fact, but not, like, all-time legend good).
Why it’s not weird: The Leafs get a bottom-six center who can move up the depth chart if needed, as well as boost the power play, and they got him cheap. Spezza has lost a step to be sure, but his game was never predicated on speed. If 2019-20 turns out to be his last season, you know he’ll be motivated to go out on a high note for his home team.

5. Sebastian Aho to Carolina Hurricanes
Point of fact: Aho was a restricted free agent, not unrestricted, and he re-signed with his current team, like pretty much every other RFA since the dawn of time. So you could argue that even considering him for this list is weird – and then actually including him on it is just plain wrong. To that, I say: “OFFER SHEET!!! THERE WAS AN OFFER SHEET!!! AHO SIGNED AN OFFER SHEET!!!” And I would be absolutely right in my analysis. Prior to Aho’s dalliance with Montreal, there hadn’t been an NHL offer sheet in six years (Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly signed one with Calgary in 2013, and it was promptly matched by the Avs). Before that, there were seven offer sheets signed between 2006 and 2012, all of which were matched -- except one, with Dustin Penner jumping from Anaheim to Edmonton in 2007, nearly sparking a barn fight in the process. (Editor's note: This paragraph has been corrected to reflect the fact there was one successful offer sheet between 2006-12.) There were none from 1999 through 2005. In conclusion: weird.
Why it wasn’t weird: n/a.

Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.



Maple Leafs' Keefe Derides Team's 'Soft and Purposeless' Game Against Rangers

The Toronto Maple Leafs head coach called out his team's play after giving up two-goal lead in a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday Night.


The War for the NHL's Metro Division is Here

At the beginning of the NHL’s current regular season, there was a good case to be made that the Metropolitan Division was going to be the most difficult of the four divisions. But right now, it looks like four teams will fight for the top spot moving forward.


NHL Announces Massive Schedule Update

The NHL has found new dates for the 98 games that were previously postponed from the past two months due to COVID-19.